listening

Out of pierced and broken hearts...

“What do you do with your losses?”

I remember reading this sentence in Henri Nouwen’s book With Burning Hearts about eight months ago and thinking, “Yes, Henri. Please tell me: what can be done with our losses?”

Those who are in pain tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the purposes pain serves, what we might do with it, what is happening to us when we are in it, if we actually have to pass through (instead of around) it… and many other questions like this. And it could not be a more human thing to do – to ask questions and interrogate our pain. Though I don’t think it’s essential for us to understand pain for it to transform us, I have been thinking a lot this past year about why pain transforms us and what is happening when we are in the dark nights of our souls.

I really enjoy the less visible people in stories, and as I was considering pain and broken-heartedness, I was reminded of a man mentioned in the Bible named Simeon. Simeon shows up only very briefly in the New Testament around the time Jesus was born. The particular story in which he shows up is where Jesus has just been circumcised (welcome to the world, Jesus!) and Mary and Joseph were faithfully carrying out all the Jewish ceremonies around having a new baby. Only a few things are said about Simeon: 1) He was a just and devoted man; 2) he was a man who had very eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Anointed One because of the promised liberation he would bring, and 3) he was very attuned to the Spirit. The story in Luke chapter 2 says that Simeon woke up that day feeling prompted by the Spirit to go to the temple, so he did. And there his dream came true.

He held Jesus in his arms, this newborn who would do things Simeon would never see in his Earthly lifetime. I like to imagine that, in looking into this little baby’s eyes and holding his warm little body, Simeon could perhaps see in that moment all that would come to pass – the pain, the freedom, the vastness. I like to imagine he could see and feel all the surrender, the opening, the One-ing, and the freedom that would come through the life of this sweet, brand new child who was the Light of the Cosmos. This tiny body of the One who manifested all things from poetry and stardust would grow up to be pierced and torn apart by hatred and addiction to certainty. So helpless and utterly dependent, this baby would become the man who would entangle Himself with all humankind for their total, unstoppable liberation. As Simeon was standing there after seeing this, he says, “I can die in peace now.”

Then out of the space of this deeply life-changing moment, Simeon looks at Mary and essentially says to her: He will pierce human hearts. And out of those pierced hearts will pour the secrets of humankind. He will pierce even your soul, Mary.

Can you imagine?

This tells me something about what we might do with our losses – our pierced and broken hearts. When our hearts are broken, we cannot help but see what is inside them. We cannot help but see exposed thoughts, feelings, defenses, fears, loves… Some of these will not be surprising, some of these will be total strangers to us, and I daresay some of these will be downright terrifying. But what is Human Life if we do not allow ourselves to see and integrate all the pieces of ourselves into the whole that is the True Self? We are left incomplete and fragmented. We might tell ourselves that we’re good just knowing what is easy to know. But that's simply not true. The things about us that are the hardest to see are the very things that are our greatest teachers. And perhaps our greatest liberators.

When our hearts are pierced and broken and our secrets pour out of our wounds, we can name them accurately and truthfully. And this is not so we can wallow and fester in our shame, but so we can make them available to the healing power of the Light. In fact, the most integral aspect of of Jesus’s liberation mission as the Light of the Cosmos is to shine this healing light on human hearts. Heart wounds, by definition, open closed hearts. We feel vulnerable in pain because, well, we are. While our social and cultural constructs have instructed us that vulnerability and authenticity is scary and bad, it is only this kind of opening that allows the transformative Light of the Cosmos to freely make its way into us.

One of my favorite recorded statements Jesus ever makes is found in John 8:12: I am the Light that shines through the cosmos; if you walk with Me, you will thrive in the Nourishing Light that gives Life and will not know darkness. 

So what do we do with our losses? We name the wounds, the piercings, the pains. And we look upon and listen to the secrets that pour out of them. We face ALL the things we see (not just the “pretty” ones) with confidence and assurance, trusting that somehow the Light heals because that’s what is promised. Heartbreak gives us the opportunity to become more receptive people – exposing us to what we need; opening us to growth, expansion, birth; and helping us make space for all things within us and around us to belong, even the tensions and longings that scare us.

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In what ways does your heart stand pierced and broken, asking to be heard? Can you look at the secrets, those precious and sacred teachers, and allow their authenticity to lead you toward your own integration and liberation? If it feels overwhelming, that's okay. What is just one thing you can choose to name and hold today?

Advent: Listening with our bodies

The spiritual life is full of different forms of waiting. It is so easy to forget the importance of waiting – what it does, what it is for, and who it leads us to become. When we forget the importance of waiting, we also usually forget that there are myriad practices associated with waiting that more greatly open us to the benefits of a process like this. The rhythms and rituals of the church calendar call our attention back to waiting, anticipation, listening, etc. as practices of worship and devotion. As with many life practices, we have gotten out of the habit of involving our bodies in the process. We allow our cerebral minds to consider and analyze life inevitabilities and processes. We observe our emotions dipping in and out of our thinking, and let our minds expand our hearts for the briefest of moments. Our spirits are involved in a very automatic way also, of course, as worship and devotion are meant to call out to the spirit in both whispers or shouts. But the body…what about the body?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he says our bodies are living, dynamic containers for the Spirit of the living God –– temples. In a modern Western experience of Christianity, we have usually been told what not to do with our bodies, how they can get us into trouble. But we rarely talk about how beautifully our bodies can get us out of trouble. God is such an artist, however, that He has created these fleshy temples in which we can carry around His Living Spirit and worship him in the most ordinary and plain things. So often we pray for a miracle…but just like when you’re desperately searching for your lost keys then look down and find them in your hands, the miracles that we pray for are already in plain sight if only we can become still enough to pay attention and see.

The lighting, beholding, and enjoying of the Advent candles is a special but very ordinary thing. Though we only practice this rhythm once a year together in our spiritual communities, it is a very common thing––lighting the wicks of candles that sit in a simple circle. But when done with specific attention paid, it invites our whole beings into sweet attunement with the process of the no-matter-what with-ness of God.

Advent is the season we tend to most intentionally sit silently in life’s tensions, listen carefully, and wait for Jesus, the Light of the Cosmos, the being within the Divine dance who is called Emmanuel, “God with us.”


What vast expectation and eager anticipation might we experience if we were to fully grasp the infinitude of what God’s with-ness truly means?


God is so decisive about wanting exchange and unity with humankind that He brought visibility to invisibility, He revealed Himself in the flesh, and allowed Himself to be known in every possible human capacity and dimension: above in the heavens, below through Incarnation, in the depths of death, and the breadth of the entire universe. This is a God who wants to know and be known.

So. Each week for the next four weeks, another Advent candle will be lit. As the number of flames increase, so does the tension of our waiting expectantly. The portal between the flames and our attunement is the body. But I invite you to take this beyond the lighting of the candles on Sunday. How might you invite the mysteries of such a time into your whole being over the next four week on a daily basis? If He can form His own body from the body a virgin girl two thousand years ago, He can surely invite your particular body into the process of anticipating His ever-coming and ever-with-ness in you this season.

May God help us.